The respondent, a 37-year-old man from Algeria, has been pushed back multiple times. This report details his third pushback experience, which happened on the 15th of November 2021.
The respondent recalled that he was part of a transit group of five other men from Algeria, with the youngest being 19 years old and him the eldest. He explained that he and the transit group crossed into Greece at approximately 1 AM and walked until they reached the bus station in Orestiada. They proceeded to buy tickets from a merchant and climbed aboard the bus at approximately 9 AM. According to the respondent, two men wearing green uniforms with Greek insignia on their shoulders boarded the bus. He speculated that the ticket merchant had called the “police” on him and his transit group members. The uniformed men spoke in Greek, checked the passengers and when they approached the respondent, he replied to them in Greek. Reportedly one of the uniformed men said to the respondent “it’s okay, you can sleep”, assuming he was not undocumented. The uniformed men continued and checked the other transit group members, who could not speak Greek and asked them if “somebody else is in the city or in the bus“ with them. At this point, the transit group members pointed to the respondent and said “yes this guy”, who were all subsequently escorted off the bus.
According to the respondent, the uniformed man he conversed with in Greek on the bus did not believe at first that he was part of the transit group and reportedly said “no, this guy, I was speaking with him, he speak Greek”. The respondent recalled that one of the uniformed men asked if he could speak English, to which the respondent replied he could, and asked where he had learned Greek, seeming surprised that he could speak both languages. He added that he told the officers he was in Greece five years previously.
The transit group were put into what the respondent described as a small, white unmarked van. He added that the uniformed men drove recklessly, using the brakes forcibly a few times, for an estimated ten minutes until they reportedly reached a site of detention, where two plain-clothed men were waiting for them. According to the respondent, the other transit group members were taken out of the van but he stayed inside and so could not describe the detention site or the surroundings. He said the plain-clothed officers did not speak with him at first, just the uniformed man who had apprehended him in the station, who reportedly said in Greek “if I ask you something, do you accept, like what I’m going to tell you?”. The respondent replied that “‘you can ask me, it’s okay, if I don’t want to accept, don’t worry’” to which the uniformed man responded by asking the respondent “do you want to work with us?”. In surprise at this proposal, the respondent said he could not believe it, and when he didn’t reply, one of the plain-clothed men reportedly said “if you don’t say yes, why you come here to Greece? Why you come here? For what? If you don’t want to work with us?”. They reportedly threatened the respondent by saying “now we have to push you back” and “next time we catch you here you are going to work by force”. This practice could refer to the evidenced use of third-country nationals by the Greek police, to “work” under exploitative conditions and help to carry out pushbacks at the Evros border (see Lighthouse Reports Investigation). The respondent stated that he had not experienced any physical or verbal violence and did not express an intention to claim asylum, adding that “they don’t give you a chance “.
After approximately 15 minutes, the respondent explained that twenty people, including his transit group, were put into the van, with two of the green uniformed men driving the vehicle. When asked about nationalities, he said some were from Algeria, Syria and Iran, and some women and children were present, their ages unknown. He described how the van was so cramped that they could not breathe. They drove for what he estimated to be 20 minutes until they arrived at the Evros/Meriç River at approximately 10 PM, he could not provide the exact location as he could not see out of the van and had no cellphone. The transit group were taken out of the van and lined up to be searched before walking to the river. The respondent recalled that there were three men described as wearing green army uniforms with balaclavas from Syria and Kurdistan, who searched people and drove the boats across the river. One of the men from Kurdistan – described as having tattoos – reportedly body searched people. The respondent said he did not have any money as he used it to buy a bus ticket but his jacket and shoes were taken. People were reportedly beaten with a baton by one of the Greek-speaking uniformed men, with the respondent adding that an Iranian man was beaten “very hard” for approximately five minutes and “the guy he have like blood” because the men believed he was lying and from Pakistan. As the respondent can speak Greek, he said he heard one of the men saying “I don’t like Pakistani people”.
At the Evros/Meriç River, the respondent recalled that there were approximately 70 people present and one inflatable boat, already pumped, used to transport people across the river. People were reportedly ferried in groups of twelve people across the river with the two men from Syria. The respondent stated that he waited approximately 20 minutes until he was transported across and that the river crossing took an estimated three minutes. When the respondent reached the other side of the river on Turkish territory he said they climbed a hill and walked for approximately 50 metres through agricultural lands and then took a taxi.